Archive for August, 2015

No doubt about it Colorado is a wonderful place to live- It started around 10,000 years ago when the earliest ancestors of today’s Native Americans began coming to what is present day Colorado to enjoy the bounty of this wonderful region. We’ve had farmers, ranchers, miners, railroaders,tech wizards, musicians, nature lovers, skiers and snowboarders, and marijuana enthusiasts all flock here to set up roots. We have everything you could desire except for maybe a white sand beach and an ocean to surf in, but who needs that when you have the Rocky Mountains? In recent decades Colorado experienced a couple of distinct population booms which have drastically altered the look of the Front Range and seen the entire I-25 corridor from Ft. Collins to Colorado Springs turn into one vast, sprawling, urban metropolis.

Can Colorado's historic sites like Geneva City (pictured) be saved from the encroachment of modern man?

Can Colorado’s historic sites like Geneva City (pictured) be saved from the encroachment of modern man?

Colorado has had booms throughout it’s modern “American” history, which began when the Spanish conquistadors first came through the area in the 16th and 17th centuries. They told of the great natural wealth of the area, and a few hearty Spanish ranchers would lead their herds and flocks into what is now Colorado. Following the early Spaniards came fur traders of all origins, although the French showed a particular fondness for Colorado. On the tails of the fur trade came the prospectors who found gold in large quantities in 1859 which sparked the great “Colorado Gold Rush.” After the Gold Rush, Colorado had the silver boom of the 1870’s and 1880’s. The railroads provided work and a reason for even more to come here. Then we had the ranchers, farmers, and the industrialists with their mills a smelters for refining the ore mined in the mountains.

The first of the recent “modern era” booms came in the late 1980’s and 1990’s- What became known as the “Tech Boom” brought thousands to the state to work for the technology and computer giants based at the foot of the Rockies. Towards the end of the 1990’s the Tech Boom slowed and population growth in Colorado mellowed. Then, in recent years, Colorado has experienced another boom. Some of the new boom is more affluent people fleeing urban centers on the east and west coast, bringing their wealth to Colorado in search of quieter, less stressful living. And, like it or not, the other cause for the recent population spike in Colorado is the “Weed Boom” following the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012.

According to census statistics and projections found on the State of Colorado website colo.gov. the state has seen 16.9% increase in population since the year 2000- That’s around 1.6 million people in the last 15 years!  Growth in the early 2000’s was around 1.1% annually, increasing in the years 2010-2012 to around 1.5% annually. Following marijuana legalization the state has seen growth jump from 1.5% in 2012 to 1.75% currently, with a projection of 1.9% for 2016. According to studies conducted by CBS News, 60 Minutes and The Business Insider nearly 25% of those coming to Colorado since 2012 fall into the 18-34 year old age bracket. Denver proper is the 6th fastest growing city in the United States, and, overall, Colorado’s population growth is double the national average.

The urban sprawl of Denver...once described as

The urban sprawl of Denver…once described as “…a dusty little cow town on the plains…” now one of the Top 10 fastest growing cities in the United States. Denver’s rapid expansion has led to an influx of visitors to the mountains nearby.

This massive influx of over a 1.5 million new residents, many of whom are young and active, seeking fun and adventure in Colorado’s great outdoors, brings with it a burden on our National Forests Colorado was not prepared for. From lack of parking and facilities at hot spots such as the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Guanella Pass, Herman Gulch, etc., to traffic congestion on the weekends on nearly every road and trail on the east slope of the Continental Divide, Colorado’s mountains are groaning from the pressure.

Can we find a balance between the encroaching wants and desires of the modern world and the reminders of our past? How do we satisfy the the growing demand for “organized recreation” in our National Forests? By “organized recreation” I mean today’s weekender in the National Forest expects to find zip line tours, rafting trips, comfy “civilized” dude ranches with horseback rides, guided nature walks along groomed trails, lodges offering 5-star dining, and paved campgrounds with electrical hookups and flushing toilets…and maybe a few trails to take their ATV’s or mountain bikes out on in the afternoon. How do we accommodate those who want all the creature comforts of the city AND the great outdoors experience at the same time? Dying are the days of the outdoorsman who ventured into the back country in his beat up 4X4 with a can of Vienna Sausages, some beef jerky, a tent, fishing pole and some water.

Today’s Coloradan (native and new) is largely urban born and bred, with little or no real “back country” experience. This isn’t an attack on anyone, it’s just the plain truth. Colorado is urban these days, most of us are city people. And, for the most part, urban people, especially the younger ones, have not been raised on weekend camping trips to unknown spots deep in the mountains. As a result, they have not been taught to respect the wilderness. Protecting the environment to most modern city dwellers is putting your dog poop in plastic bag, attending a “Save the Whales” protest, or car-pooling to work- But when it comes to handling environmentalism in the wilderness close to home on the weekends, most would get failing grades for the path of garbage and destruction they leave behind when they transfer their city practices to the mountains.

In defense of the the urbanites flocking to Colorado they have come from cities that are no where near any wide open forest areas and/or mountains like we take for granted as native Coloradans. And, those who have come from areas where there were at least public recreation areas like parks and lakes, etc. they became accustomed to creature comforts like toilet facilities and trash cans. Many have never been exposed to back country camping where you are expected to clean up after yourself. “Pack it in, pack it out” the  well-known mantra of natives here, is an unknown concept to new arrivals who are accustomed to park rangers and waste management crews taking care of the debris field they leave in their wake.

Unfortunately, many of the historic sites within our National Forests and on BLM land open to the public are falling victim to those who come seeking weekend adventure and relaxation. Increasingly on my personal trips to the mining camps and ghost towns of the Rockies I’m finding more and more discouraging signs of modern man’s encroachment- old buildings stripped of their wood for use in camp fires, antique mining equipment shot full of holes or simply stolen from where it has sat for the last 100 years, graffitti scrawled into the walls of buildings and cabins, headstones toppled, vandalized or stolen from historic graveyards, evidence of 4X4’s and ATV’s going off designated trails and damaging sites and destroying wetlands. And trash, trash everywhere- plastic bottles, beer and liquor bottles, black trash bags full of garbage ripped open by animals and the contents strewn all over the surrounding mountainside. Yes, this has ALWAYS happened in modern times, but being someone who spends the majority of my time in these once hard to reach, remote places, it has really become an epidemic in the last five years or so as the population has surged, back country roads have been improved, and overall human pressure on the wilderness has increased.

Photo of trash left behind at a campsite. Taken two weeks ago by friends of mine. I've seen similar too many times to count in recent years.

Photo of trash left behind at a campsite. Taken two weeks ago by friends of mine. I’ve seen similar too many times to count in recent years. This illustrates the importance of teaching the “pack it in, pack it out” principle.

What can we do to help stop the destruction of Colorado’s history and forests? We must understand that most of the people in Colorado, native and new, don’t have much interest in the state’s history, and they don’t think twice about that old cabin or that rusty old boiler alongside the trail as they whizz by on their dirt bike. They’ve come for the trail, and the camping, not the cabin and the boiler. To them, it’s just “old junk” so what’s the big deal if they shoot it full of holes or tear boards off of it to throw in the campfire?  Some even think they are helping by tearing down old structures that they personally deem “unsafe.”

What looks like rusty, old junk to some, is actually Colorado history, and is protected by Federal laws.

What looks like rusty, old junk to some, is actually Colorado history, and is protected by Federal laws.

What looks like firewood to some is actually the remains of a historic cabin, and is protected under Federal law.

What looks like firewood to some is actually the remains of a historic cabin, and is protected under Federal law.

The big deal to those of us who are history buffs, is that these piles of “old junk” represent Colorado’s past- Whether they be a Native American site or a rusty stamp mill at a mine, they are equally valuable and important to Colorado’s history, and they are protected by the law. They are our connection to the early days of the state, from the indigenous populations who once called Colorado home, to the hearty miners and prospectors, pioneers and trappers who set up roots here and helped create the fantastic state we live in today. These piles of “old junk” are their legacy to us, and are sacred to many of us, and are disappearing at an alarming rate from the forces of Nature, and sadly, the destructive forces of man.

History, not rubbish.

History, not rubbish.

As our mountains get more and more pressure from our growing population- both native and new, our past is being destroyed and lost forever. In recent decades we have lost entire historic sites to man’s destruction- The ghost town of Tiger was burned to the ground by the Forest Service in the 1970’s to rid it of the hippie colony that had squatted in the abandoned buildings. The simple marble tombstone of two-year-old Clara Dulaney who died in 1865, was stolen from the Missouri Flats site by some sick pervert in recent years. ALL of the tombstones have been stolen from the Caribou cemetery above Nederland.

Protective fence recently erected at Missouri Flats to protect the grave of little Clara Dulaney whose simple tombstone was stolen in recent years by some pervert.

Protective fence recently erected at Missouri Flats to protect the grave of little Clara Dulaney whose simple tombstone was stolen in recent years by some pervert.

Manhattan was torn down by the Forest Service because it was a “fire hazard.” We lost the old ghost town of Ninetyfour near St. Mary’s glacier to private owners who bought the land and built a custom home- This once public ghost town still stands, but is now off-limits to visitors, although you can still sneak a photo of the old post office with a zoom lens.

The now privately owned and off-limits post office of Ninetyfour taken through a zoom lens.

The now privately owned and off-limits post office of Ninetyfour taken through a zoom lens.

About a decade ago an annoying, immature, and inconsiderate radio host from Denver who could be described more accurately with the use of profanity, illegally held a 4X4 rally on clearly marked private land above the Hendricks Silver Mine near Nederland and destroyed a couple of acres of wetlands that the mine owner had spent many years rehabilitating and returning to health. American City and Baltimore above Central City had their historic buildings ripped down by developers and replaced with modern summer cabins and the sites have been closed off to the public.

Places like Dyersville which were long lost to history and found in an almost undisturbed state many decades later have fallen victim to vandals who destroy the cabins and loot the artifacts left at the site. In the subdivision of Ken Caryl Ranch many homeowners have long called for the demolition of the historic Bradford House (because it is an “eyesore” in their prestigious community) which was a stagecoach stop and Civil War era recruiting station, only through the efforts of a group of preservationists was the building allowed to remain. Near Cripple Creek, the old blacksmith shop and schoolhouse that marked the site of Anaconda were bulldozed around a year ago by the owners of  the Anglo Gold-Ashanti CCV gold mine in order to expand operations, when they could have easily and cheaply been moved and preserved among the other historic artifacts displayed in the area.  The buildings of Waldorf were lost to an arsonist a while back.

Old abandoned buildings...such a temptation to arsonists.

Old abandoned buildings…such a temptation to arsonists.

Countless numbers of old mining machines have been illegally hauled off hillsides and sold for scrap or put on the market in recent years to satisfy the desires of collectors, fashionable bar and restaurant owners, and interior designers capitalizing on the trend of “re-purposing” old industrial equipment. TV shows even glamorize and document the theft of historic artifacts that are in turn sold for profit.

In recent years, some City/County Governments, the EPA, and other environmentalist organizations have jumped in on the act and have taken great pride in trying to erase Colorado’s past as a mining state- Boulder County being a prime example- Boulder, along with the EPA has taken almost orgasmic pleasure in the destruction of old mining camps in the name of “restoration and environmental cleanup” as a result the numerous ghost towns and camps that dotted the hills above Boulder have been completely erased. Boulder County seems so vindictive of their past that it almost appears that they want to rewrite their own history and make no mention of the gold mining that created their present day. Boulder County even brazenly turned the historic Catholic Church in Ward into the community garbage collection and composting site for a few years, but recently they stopped this practice, although they still use the church to store road construction equipment. Magnolia, Lakewood, Balarat, Tungsten, Camp Tolcott, Camp Francis…the list of historic sites now lost in Boulder County goes on and on- How much longer will it be before Summerville is destroyed? And, lest we forget natural disasters out of our hands like the forest fires and floods of the last few years that took even more of Boulder County’s history- Soon there will be nothing left of Boulder County’s past.

How much longer will Summerville last before some official with Boulder County decides it's "unsightly" or "unsafe" and needs to be destroyed?

How much longer will Summerville last before some official with Boulder County decides it’s “unsightly” or “unsafe” and needs to be destroyed?

One of those misguided souls who set out to “help” make Colorado “safer” wound up in Federal Court about 6 years ago, being sued for millions of dollars and looking at jail time, after he bulldozed an entire ghost town in the San Juan Mountains on public land!  His defense was he thought it was “unsafe” because people were stopping and taking photos of the tumbledown buildings- He truly felt in his own mind he was doing the right thing to protect public safety by destroying the ghost town!!!

Everyday historic sites across Colorado are demolished to make way for new housing, parking lots, resorts, luxury condos, ski runs, and the “organized recreation” the new Coloradan wants in favor of the “outback wilderness experience” many of us natives grew up on. But where does it stop? Where does our responsibility as Coloradans come in to play in the preservation and protection of our history and heritage? We can’t simply bulldoze, pave, and stripe off  the Rocky Mountains in the name of comfort, ease of access, and safety, which seems to be the desire of so many these days. There has to be, and needs to a disconnect between the modern world and the wilderness- That is what wilderness means.

Boulder County uses this historic church at Ward as an equipment storage garage for road crews, and, recently even used it as a community garbage collection point and compost heap. Boulder County can do better, this is a historic site, and a sacred place to many.

Boulder County uses this historic church at Ward as an equipment storage garage for road crews, and, recently even used it as a community garbage collection point and compost heap. Boulder County can do better, this is a historic site, and churches are sacred places to many.

Dyersville, dating to the 1880's. in Summit County was largely intact and undisturbed until the last four years. When I first visited Dyersville in 2011 there were around twelve structures, when I returned in 2015 there were six, the remaining cabins had been vandalized by graffiti and showed signs of having logs and boards removed for use in campfires. It won't be long until Dyersville is totally gone.

Dyersville, dating to the 1880’s  in Summit County was largely intact and undisturbed until the last four years. When I first visited Dyersville in 2011 there were around twelve structures, when I returned in 2015 there were six, the remaining cabins had been vandalized by graffiti and showed signs of having logs and boards removed for use in campfires. It won’t be long until Dyersville is totally gone.

The Bradford House located inside the Ken Caryl Ranch subdivision west of Denver which was the topic of a heated battle between preservationsists and people who wanted it torn down because it was an

The Bradford House located inside the Ken Caryl Ranch subdivision west of Denver which was the topic of a heated battle between preservationists and people who wanted it torn down because it was an “eyesore” in their opinion. This was Colorado’s Union recruiting station in the Civil War!

What can those of us that want to protect Colorado’s history do to stop this unfortunate destruction of our past?  There are Federal laws already in place that strictly prohibit taking, destroying, or metal detecting for any items or structures at historic sites over 50 years old. (I believe the law makes it a felony to metal detect at historic sites, and a felony to remove any item over 5 pounds, I’m not 100% sure though.) The problem with these laws, like most laws, are they are virtually unenforceable.  Who among us hasn’t taken home an old rusty nail, a bottle or a rusty can you found along the way? I know I have! These laws were designed to stop people from outright looting of historic sites like taking doors and windows, furnishings, machinery, and even grave robbing. Realistically, it’s not the nails and the tin cans the law set out to protect. There is absolutely no way the Forest Service can patrol every historic site in Colorado, and they shouldn’t have to. How can private citizens like most of us who consider ourselves “ghost towners” and amateur historians do anything to help?

How long will this old Ford remain hidden in the pines untouched before someone finds it and steals it or shoots it full of holes?

How long will this old Ford remain hidden in the pines untouched before someone finds it and steals it or shoots it full of holes? This is what the Federal laws protecting historic sites are designed to save, sadly the laws are hard to enforce.

There are many state and local historic preservation clubs and societies that exist that we can join, and many of them are actively taking steps to protect and preserve sites, but funding and time constraints limit the extent of their efforts. We can stay in contact with each other and share remote sites we’ve found, and make our own efforts to at least clean up the modern trash we find left at the sites by those who don’t care. We can lobby and request our lawmakers do something to protect more historic sites. But, all of this stuff has been done before, and clearly, it isn’t working well enough. The efforts are appreciated, but somehow more needs to be done to stop the onslaught of destruction. Too many people just don’t care, and somehow we need to change that.

The Rock Creek Stage Station preserved for all to enjoy.

The Rock Creek Stage Station preserved for all to enjoy.

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My only thought is those of us who do care and want to keep Colorado’s history in a state of “arrested decay” for future generations to enjoy, is that we spread the word to everyone we know. Just ask them to respect and appreciate the history that surrounds us in Colorado, the history that made Colorado what it is today. And, even if you don’t care about the history, just don’t destroy something for the sake of destroying it. Treat every old cabin and every old mine like a grave, and show it some reverence and respect. If you’re out and find a spot that has been trashed or vandalized, clean up the mess. If you see someone taking something from a site or defacing a structure, ask them to stop and explain that it’s not just “old junk”, it is Colorado’s past they are ruining, and it is protected by Federal laws. Take only photos to document the fading reminders of the past, even without man’s destruction and abuse, nature will soon swallow what little is left, we can preserve it forever through photographs and written descriptions.

The schoolhouse at Malta, preserved for future generations instead of destroyed.

The schoolhouse at Malta, the only structure left to mark the towns location, preserved for future generations instead of being destroyed or vandalized.

It is my greatest fear that in the very near future in Colorado our only historic sites and ghost towns will be turned into “pay-at-the-gate” tourist traps and fabrications made to look and feel old like Bodie and Calico in California. Colorado has a great wealth of free history to be found in the forests, but we have to educate the people using the forests these days not to destroy what they find. It might not make a bit of difference, but maybe if enough of us who care become active, and stop and explain the history of these places in a friendly manner to the people we find there, they will leave with a new found appreciation for what they viewed as merely “old junk”. I’ve done it a few times myself and I’ve always gotten a positive reaction from the people I’ve stopped and talked to. We just need to find some way to protect what is left and we should all exchange ideas and suggestions.

“Pay-at-the-gate” Calico, California, a largely fabricated ghost town tourist trap. Is this the future of Colorado? Let’s hope not, we’re better than this.

I was raised to respect the wilderness and whatever I might find lurking within the trees be it an animal, or an old cabin, or a mine shaft. There are just a few simple rules when enjoying the wilderness that all of us should remember and share with our friends. If we can just follow some basics the wilderness will be better for all of us:

-Treat every old cabin or structure like a grave. Look at it, explore it, but leave it as you found it, don’t vandalize or destroy it.

-Pack out EVERYTHING you pack in. Leave the forest better than you found it. Take out someone else’s trash along with your own and make the woods better for everyone.

-Keep your ATV, dirt bike or 4X4 on the trail, There are so many trails in Colorado it is unnecessary to go “make your own”, and keep them out of the wetlands and beaver ponds where they will do serious damage to the ecosystems.

-Don’t shoot your guns on holiday weekends when the forests are crawling with people. Don’t shoot into old buildings, vehicles or equipment you find, and don’t take your old TV’s to the woods to shoot!  (I’ve seen about 10,000 shot up TV’s in the past year and they make an awful mess!) We recently had an innocent man enjoying a campfire with his family die due to a stray bullet fired irresponsibly on the 4th of July weekend. Discharging firearms within 150 yards of ANY road, dirt or paved in the National Forest is illegal, please exercise your gun rights responsibly. If all of us gun owners act responsibly fewer people will attack our rights, it’s common sense. Go above and beyond with your gun safety in the woods and never fire over a hill, into the air, or on a busy weekend or holiday when others are camping in close proximity.

-If you are on the trail use trail etiquette and always yield to allow the vehicle coming uphill the right of way.

-Never kill an animal unless you are going to eat it.

-Always put your campfire completely out. Douse it in water, bury it in dirt.

Old school bus shot full of holes near Stumptown above Leadville, surrounded by modern day garbage- an armchair, plastic milk crates, assorted TV guts and electronics...disgusting!

Old school bus shot full of holes near Stumptown above Leadville, surrounded by modern day garbage- an armchair, plastic milk crates, assorted TV guts and electronics…disgusting!

We all have the right to access and enjoy our National Forests, but like every right, there comes responsibilities as well.

Colorado History- Enjoy it, don't destroy it!

Colorado History- Enjoy it, don’t destroy it!

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A few days after my father had passed away unexpectedly, my brother and I decided we needed a road trip to clear our heads, reminisce about the old man,  and share some laughs. My brother asked me if we could visit southern Colorado, an area he had never seen before, and I gladly obliged. We hopped in the car and headed for the foothills in the area between Pueblo and Trinidad- Colorado’s great coal belt. I’d visited the region several times on my own, and I knew my brother would enjoy the scenery and history of the area.

We buzzed south down I-25 passing the huge, dormant, Colorado Fuel and Iron steel mills of Pueblo which line the interstate. These huge rusty, dilapidated, structures with their towering red brick smokestacks were once the backbone of Pueblo- Employing thousands of men through the years and providing a “life” for many families, families whose descendants still call the area home. Today, the giants are silent, their smokestacks crumbling, and the neighborhoods of tiny houses around them, still occupied by the proud families who sprang from the mills, sit in a state of slow, but steady decay, the windows of their corner stores and saloons boarded up, and one more empty house each time I visit.

Crossing the Arkansas River the Colorado scenery changes, and the arid rolling hills give off a totally different feeling than the rocky, pine covered slopes of the area closer to Denver. Here, Colorado takes on a definite high desert, “wild west” aspect. There is also a distinctly Hispanic culture in this area- This land was Mexico for many years, and prior to that it was Spain’s northernmost territory in the new world. The first settlers of the region, dating back to the 1700’s with a few roaming shepherds and ranchers, were of Spanish origin, and that culture remains strong to this day in these parts.

It is down in the narrow canyons and bluffs of this area, where the mountains meet the plains, that we found Colorado’s coal belt, or, more accurately, the remains of Colorado’s coal belt.  West of I-25, and south of Walsenburg to Trinidad lays an enormous coal pocket, and throughout these hills we find the trace remnants of the company towns that once stood here. Places like- Tabasco, Berwind, Starkville, Morley, Hastings, Tollerburg, Tioga, Cokedale…the list goes on and on. But one name stands out among the rest “Ludlow”.

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A simple sign along the interstate a few miles north of Trinidad reads “Ludlow Massacre Memorial Exit 27” I’d visited Ludlow once before, and snapped off a few pictures in haste as the sun sank behind the mountains in the west, but I’d wanted to come back and spend more time in this place.  I thought my brother would appreciate these hallowed grounds as well, so we took Exit 27 and just a mile or two west of bustling I-25 Ludlow came into view.  A few tumbledown buildings marked what was left of the main street in town, and the railroad tracks that hauled the coal out of the dumps here still pass by.

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To the north of Ludlow there is a small picnic ground with a few tall trees and a couple of sheds and a parking lot. Most people probably stop by just to use the public restrooms and to get out of the hot Colorado sun without ever noticing the fenced in area just beyond the picnic tables, and the monument of a man, woman and child within the fence. This is the Ludlow Massacre Memorial erected by the United Mine Workers of America to honor those who died in the massacre of April 20, 1914. There is also a strange steel door, painted white on the ground, within the fenced in area of the memorial. When opened there are stairs leading down into a dark abyss.

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What was the Ludlow Massacre? And why is it important that we all remember it? Why is it not taught in our school system?  Because Ludlow was dangerous to the ruling class of big businessmen. What happened at Ludlow changed the way American businesses treated their labor.

To simplify a long and complex story, the Ludlow Massacre was the tragic culmination of tensions between the working class and the managing class/governing class in what became known as the “Coal Wars” of 1913-1914. Massive social, political, and economic changes swept the country from the mid-1800’s through the early 1900’s as a result of the industrial revolution. Some got rich, some lost everything, while most toiled away for just enough to barely scrape by. Among the people most affected by these changes were coal miners across the country. The widening gap between the “haves” (mine owners, managers, and politicians in their pay)  and the “have nots” (the miners and their families) led to strikes, confrontations and armed clashes between the two groups, culminating in the April 20, 1914 massacre at Ludlow where eighteen people (mostly children) were murdered by the Colorado National Guard sent to protect mine owners and break the strike.

Colorado National Guard and Mine Goon Squad

Colorado National Guard and Mine Goon Squad at Ludlow 1914

Miners and their families were forced to live in “company towns” which were small private kingdoms bought and paid for by the mine owners. In these company towns, the mine owners controlled nearly every aspect of the lives of their employees. Mine employees were paid in virtually worthless “scrip” which were tokens or paper “money” that were only valid at the company store or saloon. The company store and saloon, were owned by the mine owners and they were generally stocked with cheap, poor quality goods that were sold at tremendously inflated prices to the workers. Often, the miners did not have enough scrip to pay for the necessities of life, so the mine bosses benevolently extended lines of credit to the miners and their families. These lines of credit were often over extended, and the miner had no choice but work whatever hours and shifts the mine owners demanded, because they were in such in deep debt to the boss. This was a way mine owners and their cronies turned the working class into indentured servants with no way out. The miners had little choice but to tolerate the conditions, as everything they had from their homes to the shoes on their feet and the food on their table was owned by the mine bosses.

Ludlow Railroad Station

Ludlow Railroad Station and Company Store

On top of the crippling economic practices inside the company towns, mine bosses also limited the freedom of speech, religion and education- Churches and schools were set up in the company towns, but they were staffed by preachers and teachers hand selected by the bosses. Private police patrolled the company towns and cracked down on anyone critical of the mine owners or the conditions in the town. These police were nothing more than brutal thugs and bullies who kept order and silence through fear.

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Conditions inside most company towns were awful. The powerful mine owners were allowed to get away with outright abuses and borderline slavery because, as is all too familiar today, the bosses had the money to pay off politicians and police who would then look the other way.

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In 1913 and 1914 life in the Colorado coal camps became intolerable, and the miners went on strike. A series of skirmishes and confrontations ensued, and finally, the mine owners called on their paid off politician friends to intervene. The Colorado National Guard arrived by rail to the numerous coal camps and company towns  that lined Berwind Canyon, among them Ludlow.

Ludlow Saloon

Ludlow Saloon

The striking mine workers and their families were living largely in a tent city at the time, and when hostilities boiled over between the striking miners, the company goon squads, and the Colorado National Guard, chaos ensued. Members of the Colorado National Guard and the company thugs who were aching for a fight opened fire on the striking miners, many of whom were armed as well. The gun battle between the two sides sent the wives and children of the tent colony running for cover. Many had dug pits under their tents as makeshift shelters in anticipation of such an event.

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A fire soon broke out in the tent colony, and amidst the smoke, flames and mayhem troops of the militia opened fire into the tent colony with an assortment of outdated military rifles and a few Colt-Browining M1895 “Potato Digger” machine guns. The screams of the wounded and dying permeated the miner’s camp.

When the bullets stopped flying, and the fires had been put out, the Red Cross arrived on the scene to find the charred battlefield still smoldering. As the miners and the Red Cross began to survey the damage, they came across a scene of unspeakable horror, when they found the scorched bodies of eleven children and two women in one of the makeshift pit shelters under a burned tent. The youngest victims of the massacre were found here, aged three months and six months old. In future accounts of the tragedy this became known as “The Pit of Death”. In all, eighteen men, women and children died in the Ludlow Massacre- some by bullets, some by fire. Among the dead lay the entire Costa Family.

“The Pit of Death”

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Public outrage and unrest ensued throughout the region as news of the slaughter spread as fast as the flames did across the tents of Ludlow. Riots, beatings, gun battles, and overall maniacal rage between the warring factions over the following days became known as the “Ten Day War”. Order was finally restored when the United States Army was called in to disperse the Colorado National Guard and the hired goon squads of the mine bosses.

The repulsive slaughter of the innocents at Ludlow turned the tables in favor of organized labor, and in following years working conditions for the “average” American greatly improved. The eight hour work day became industry standard. Overtime was paid for any hours over eight you worked in a day, and overtime was paid for any hours over forty in a week. Gone were the abusive company towns and the cut throat company store. Working conditions and safety measures improved across mines, mills and factories nationwide. Wages and benefits were drastically improved.

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For a few sweet decades following Ludlow, largely in part due to the efforts of labor unions and Federal legislation, life became better, and in many cases good for the average American worker. It seemed the only people unhappy with the changes were the large employers who saw a small dip in their profits as they were required to start treating their employees like humans.

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As always, things change. The average American, enjoying unprecedented wealth and free time to enjoy it, became more and more materialistic and competitive with their neighbors, who were also enjoying new found wealth and freedom. The rat race was born, and our great lust as Americans to “out do” or “one up” our neighbor to show them that we were the “best” or “more successful” then them began to alter our minds on a deep level.

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More and more American workers two or three generations removed from Ludlow began to ask for more hours, more overtime, a second job…because, driven by our own profane consumerism and “need” to be the best, we became willing to give up the eight hour day, or forty hour work week the families of Ludlow died for. Few of us had ever heard of Ludlow. Fewer of us cared. We wanted the biggest and the best of everything. No, we didn’t want it, we NEEDED it. We absolutely, under any circumstances, HAD to have it.

So, we burned the hard won rights of the Ludlow miners to fuel our incessant lust for new gadgets and status symbols. In the 1990’s, many generations removed from Ludlow, Congress quietly did away with the laws requiring employers to pay overtime for anything more than eight hours in a day. Almost overnight across industrial America, the twelve hour shift reappeared after many years under moth balls. With the twelve hour shift, only two shifts are needed, and the business owner saves money even if they pay overtime to the workers- Because the entire second shift of workers can be eliminated. No more hourly wages for the second shift, no more benefits packages, no more vacation time- By reverting to the two-twelve hour shift model, the business owner gets fat raking in the money that would have otherwise been spent providing a stable job with livable wages to the entire second shift.

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Sadly, we American workers, blinded and driven by our consumerism, greed, and societal expectation that we participate in the rat race wound up collectively in a mountain of insurmountable debt. So, when the big boys in the suits behind the scenes dictated that the workers would be required to work twelve hour shifts, those of us lucky enough to keep our jobs gladly accepted the offer. The bosses “rewarded” us with a four day work week in most cases, and blind to the monumental shaft we were getting, we all flocked forward with smiles on our faces thinking “Wow, eight hours of overtime every week and a three day weekend! This is the best!”

The fat cats got fatter, the middle class shrank with the elimination of the second shift, and those of us who held on to our jobs greedily accepted our “new deal” thinking we were doing alright.  But, just like before, greed and materialism blinded many. “Maybe I’ll start working a few Saturdays and Sundays, the boss always needs help, and I can use some more cash to pay down some of the bills…or better yet, to buy that new boat!” No boss has ever turned down someone willing to work seven days a week for half of the money they would have made on the old “anything over eight is overtime” law. So the average American thinks they are getting a good deal and making tons of money, when in fact they are earning less than they would have under the old laws, and the entire second shift is standing in the unemployment line sucking up welfare that comes out of, you guessed it! YOUR paycheck! Taxes give you less money, which means you have to work more hours to pay for the boat and the bigger house and the newest phone to “one up” your neighbor…and the only person making any money at all is your boss.

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Our societal illness has led us to back into the shackles of indentured servitude to our Employer-Masters. Without our Employer-Masters we are nothing, so we willingly accept their corrupt and one-sided “new deals” justifying the immense screwing we are allowing ourselves to get, because of our own greed. We stand blank-eyed and emotionless as our employers cut our benefits each year, and we jump for joy and dance like excited puppies, tails wagging when our Employer-Masters toss us a bonus now and then, or benevolently “offer” us overtime which we suck up gladly like the money driven whores we have all become. In the mean time our Employer-Masters are busy making deals behind the scenes with politicians and regulating agencies which allow them to keep pumping us full of chemicals and poisons long banned in other countries as known carcinogens. Safety measures are skirted by the suits, and we all think they care for us because they give us ear plugs and safety glasses and paint yellow lines on the floor so we don’t get run over by forklifts, all the while the walls, roofs and pipes of America’s factories are crumbling and just months away from caving in a crushing the workers beneath them.  All those bonuses and overtime wages represent but a small fraction of what the boss man is pocketing each month in savings by working us like dogs, eliminating the second shift, skirting environmental and safety laws, and allowing our nation’s facilities to crumble in order to save a buck or two.

Our yearly wages, bonuses, overtime and benefits are but a small fraction of what we COULD HAVE all made if we had remembered the lessons of Ludlow and stood up for the rights won following the massacre. Instead, we became complacent. We allowed the laws to be changed, we allowed ourselves to become blinded by consumerism and greed, and now, we’ve allowed ourselves to become indentured servants again- Like the miners of Ludlow.

Unlike the miners of Ludlow, I don’t think the average American worker today has the backbone to stand up for what is right, and to put their life on the line for it. The rich will get richer, the middle class will continue to shrink, and the poor will grow by leaps and bounds.  Perhaps, sometime in the distant future, when things get so bad again as they were at Ludlow, the American worker will rise up and fight, but it won’t happen today in our current mindset- The lesson of Ludlow has been lost, and the few who know of Ludlow don’t care…at least not right now at this moment.

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It is my personal opinion that everyone, especially those with children, before working that next day of overtime, or three more hours because the boss asked you to, go visit the memorial at Ludlow. Read the names of those who died at the hands of their employers. Pause and stare hard at the names of the innocent children, some so new to this life they had yet to speak their first words. Then, open that heavy white steel door on the ground and gaze long into the black abyss- “The Pit of Death” where those eleven children were found dead. Then ask yourself what is truly important in your life- Overtime for that next toy to impress the neighbors or spending the day on the back porch grilling hot dogs with your kids instead of being at work? Does that black pit you just looked into represent the abyss of your own greed and materialism? Will you stand up and say enough is enough? Or will your insatiable greed for “things” enable the monster that will one day eat your children?

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“Remember when one gazes long into the abyss, the abyss gazes long into you.” -Nietzsche